Kevin H. White: The first among five great mayors
Former Mayor Kevin White’s sad death
brings back many old memories, some good, some bad, but mostly good, in appreciation for what he did for the city. The Globe’s Brian Mooney sums it up best
for me: “From 1968 to 1984, Mr. White was chief executive of a fast-changing metropolis, which had emerged from decades of economic stagnation and insularity with an explosion of growth and construction downtown.”
Simply put, Kevin White was mayor of Boston at a pivotal point in the city’s history, when the city could have easily lurched in either direction, back toward the “old Boston” or forward toward a “new Boston.” He chose the latter. Not taking anything away from him, but Kevin White didn’t lay the groundwork for the “new Boston.” His predecessors did, John B. Hynes and John F. Collins. They’re the ones who effectively wrestled Boston away from James Michael Curely and his divisive old-style ethnic politics that had paralyzed the city for decades. They say only Nixon could have gone to China. Well, only two Irish mayors, Hynes and Collins, could have countered Curley’s anti-business and anti-Brahmin sentiments, pushing Boston’s stagnant economy forward into a new era. Kevin White not only understood what was at stake, he expanded and clarified the new vision for the city. His 16-year hold on office almost insured that the pro-businesss/pro-development attitude in City Hall couldn’t easily be swept away by another Curley-type character.
Luckily, White was succeeded by two other strong mayors, Ray Flynn and Tom Menino. You might say White’s long tenure as mayor was bookended by two pairs of mayors who made sure Boston didn’t and wouldn’t go the way of other northeast cities, such as Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland and other basket-case metropolises that went into severe long-term decline in the ‘60s and ‘70s due to political corruption, ineptness and misguided government policies.
It might sound corny, but Boston has been blessed now with five straight great mayors. Obviously, each had their own strengths and weaknesses, no one can deny that. Kevin White left office with a posse of fed investigators on his tail, it should be remembered. He also was never going to win a retrospective Profile in Courage Award for the way he handled the busing crisis in the ‘70s (his stance on busing was pretty much to dodge and weave).
By and large, though, White and the other bookend mayors deserve enormous credit for sticking to a vision of Boston as a city that was more open, dynamic and dignified than it was during the first half of the 20th Century.
So, Kevin White, thanks and rest in peace.